Human life and embodiment

The protection of human life is a core value that is codified in religious texts, political declarations, and legal regulation. The centrality of human life is reiterated in regulations and policy documents for the digital space. For example, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2021) Recommendation on the ethics of artificial intelligence in paragraph 36 stresses that ‘life and death decisions’ should not be ceded to AI systems. The German Ethics Commission’s Automated and Connected Driving Report goes further by stating that ‘human life enjoys top priority’ (BMVI, 2017, p. 33) over animal welfare and property.

So far, the main risk for human lives from the use of digital technologies comes in the form of legal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS), often referred to as ‘killer robots’. It has been reiterated in various documents that decisions on life and death, mainly related to the use of LAWS, should rest with humans.

The question of human embodiment came into sharper focus with advances in bio and digital technologies, such as brain-machine interfaces and neural technologies. Science fiction is becoming a technological reality. Fast developments in digital, biological, and nano technologies will accelerate the merger of the human body and machines often described as transhumanism.

For example, back in 2016, Sebastian Thrun from Google announced the arrival of ‘super human’ (Kharpal, 2018): ‘Through artificial intelligence, it will be possible for us to continuously move beyond the natural biological borders of our senses and capabilities. We will remember everything, we will know everybody, we will create things which now seem to us completely impossible or even unthinkable’.

VR and AR, or the metaverse as described by Facebook, will change our experience of the physical space in which we live. With more immersion in VR, our bodily experience won’t be any more central to our identity. This shift towards the metaverse will open a new set of questions: How can one be present simultaneously in various physical and virtual spaces? What will be our real identity?

These new developments in AI, biotechnology, and the metaverse have accelerated debates on digital and human embodiment among thinkers dealing with ethics, theology, and anthropology.